And now for something completely different…

THE WAR BRIDE poster FINALI’m not going to get to see this (obv!) but I am intrigued as it’s a concept I’ve not come across before.  Next Saturday (November 10th) Mexican-American composer, Nathan Felix, will use headphones to present his new opera titled, The War Bride, at Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival in San Antonio Texas. There will be two performances starting at 7:30pm and 8:30pm in Hemisfair Park. Felix is known for his guerilla style approach in presenting classical music in unconventional spaces and The War Brideis given no exception, with a performance outside along the riverwalk at Hemisfair Park. 

 The War Bride is based on the memoir of Felix’s late grandmother, Jean Groundsell-Contreras, who married Joe Contreras during World War II in Great Britain. Joe, from Mexico, gained naturalization via serving in the US Army and after the two exchanged vows Joe remained in Germany, as Jean crossed the Atlantic pregnant and alone on the S.S. Saturnia in 1945. Jean eventually settled along the border in Nuevo Laredo with Joe joining her in late 1946. Felix recounts Jean’s tale by using the riverwalk to depict her journey across the Atlantic ocean, the Mississippi river and the Rio Grande river but he also uses the river as a metaphor for hope, division and to shed light on immigration. Jean will be played by sopranist, Elise Miller alongside baritone, Jeremiah Drake and tenor, James Dykman. Drake and Dykman will play a multiple characters in the opera including former British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain and former US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Continue reading

Dada dada

This year’s GGS School fall opera was a presentation of three short works influenced by Dada and surrealism.  The first was Martinů’s Les larmes du couteau.  It’s a hard work to describe.  Here’s what naxos.com has to offer:

Eleanor longs to marry someone like the Hanged Man, whose body is suspended over the stage. Satan appears, professing love for Eleanor, who rejects him, still longing for the Hanged Man, to which Satan now marries her, an event she celebrates by dancing a tango. A Negro Cyclist appears and Satan assumes the latter’s form. Eleanor seeks to attract the Negro/Satan, while her Mother makes gymnastic gestures at the back of the stage. Eleanor kisses the Negro, whose head bursts open, revealing Satan. Eleanor, terrified, stabs herself and the Hanged Man starts to dance to a foxtrot, as his head and limbs are detached, for him to juggle with. He comes to life and embraces Eleanor, but when she kisses him his head bursts open and the face of Satan is seen. She gives up her pursuit of love, while the Mother claims to know how to win Satan’s love, only to be rejected.

Les Larmes du couteau is very short in duration and offered obvious problems in staging, to be solved, it has been suggested, by the use of film.

Photo: Nicola Betts

Kateryna Khartova and Rachel Miller in Tears of the Knife

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Glenn Gould School’s Die Fledermaus

Die Fledermaus offers a lot scope for reinterpretation.  Like so many works involving spoken dialogue there is a tradition of reworking that dialogue to work in contemporary humour and geographic relevance to the point where there is no canonical version though there’s probably a set of general expectations.  Joel Ivany’s production for the Glenn Gould School, which opened last night at Koerner Hall, goes further than most to create a “play within a play” dynamic riffing to some extent on the difficulty of staging an opera in a concert hall.  He also makes the decision to use English dialogue but have the sung text in the original German (except for the finale).

GGS Opera 2018 Die Fledermaus #1; Lisa Sakulensky Photography

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Hnsl nd Gtl

The Glenn Gould School’s fall opera production this year is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel given in Brent Krysa’s English language, highly condensed version, originally created for the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour.  It really is condensed.  There’s no chorus and it comes in at just over the hour mark.  The main plot elements are retained but I think quite a bit of the darkness, and most of the religiosity, are gone, though the latter isn’t eliminated entirely.  After all, the Evening Prayer and the final chorus are musical highlights and pretty much have to be there.  It doesn’t leave any room for the director to explore ideas like child abuse or addiction and pretty much forces, for better or worse, a straightforward emphasis on the basic story.

Kendra Dyck (Gretel) & Rachel Miller (Hansel); GGS opera; Lisa Sakulensky Photography;1357sm

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Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation

Last night’s TSO program started off with a sort of Remembrance Day pot pourri; pipes, bugles, a bit of poetry, an excerpt of Vaughan Williams in between and finally a rather beautiful account of The Lark Ascending with Jonathan Crow playing the solo from high up in the Gallery.  Once upon a time the TSO would do Remembrance Day by performing an appropriate work or works, Britten’s War Requiem for example.  I think that might actually be a more effective way of remembering.

Jonathan Crow_The Lark Ascending (@Jag Gundu)

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Americans in Paris

There Toronto Summer Music Festival, inevitably Americas themed this year, opened with a concert called Americans in Paris featuring music by Copland, Gershwin and Bolcom.  It was a pretty mixed bag.  It opened with Copland’s Appalachian Spring played by 13 members of the TSMF Ensemble and conducted by Tania Miller.  It’s not a work I’m particularly fond of but here it was particularly unfocussed and soporific.

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Death, in Venice

If I have a beef with Britten’s Death in Venice it’s that it’s a bit cerebral and bloodless, at least as it has come down in the Aldeburgh-Glyndebourne-ENO performing tradition.  I think it’s fair to say that in its bloodlessness it mirrors the Thomas Mann novella (and indeed a lot of Mann’s other writing) but, for me, it’s a challenge to engage with the piece and, especially, with Gustav von Aschenbach.  So, it was with surprise and growing pleasure that I watched Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production for, appropriately enough, Venice’s La Fenice.  His take is bold and seems to centre less on Aschenbach’s relationshsip with the Polish boy, Tadziu, and more on the conflict between Dionysian and Apollonian ways of thinking and doing and I think it’s clear that Pizzi is a Dionysian.

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